Student Report: The Analysis of Effective Interaction in the Virtual Classroom – A Research Talk with Layla Shelmerdine

Reported by Vicky Yongkun Wu, Class of 2026

This research talk is part of the Third Space Lab brown bag lunch research talk presented by the Humanities Research Center. The program is broadly associated with research projects related to languages, cultures, and intercultural communication.

Dr. Layla Shelmerdine’s research on effective interaction in the virtual classroom is inspired by the increasingly online learning trend during the pandemic. It is vital to develop better practices to promote learning in virtual spaces. During the research talk, the audience and Dr. Shelmerdine agreed that in addition to the content, online interaction also greatly affects the quality of online classes.

To give the audience a general understanding of the talk, Dr. Shelmerdine started by providing the outline, which includes five parts, excluding the Q&A.

First, Dr. Shelmerdine briefly mentioned how she became interested in this topic. She was initially inspired by a conference called “Flipping the Virtual Classroom,” which rendered her to delve deeper into the question of learning in a virtual setting. As she gave classes to students through Zoom, Dr. Shelmerdine was also exploring techniques that worked for her to generate interest and encourage interaction. During the process, she had discussions with students about what worked for them and why. Dr. Shelmerdine’s firsthand experiences learning and teaching in a virtual setting intrigued her tremendously.

In regards to the research itself, Dr. Shelmerdine divided the contents into three parts, how to “Zoom,” students’ perspectives, and teachers’ perspectives. When referencing other research, she noticed that specifics are missing in the context of using Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) like Zoom. Evidence as regards how to use Zoom and what specific functions encourage interaction is lacking. Therefore, she developed questionnaires to inquire students and teachers about their virtual experiences. As for how Zoom facilitates online learning, Dr. Shelmerdine referenced Huang and Teo (2021), who concluded that “Zoom allows the teacher to integrate polls and surveys that can be used to engage learners and gather answers, perceptions, and ideas from the class.” Furthermore, by disseminating questionnaires and surveys among students, she found that 43.4% of students preferred low-tech options and reported Zoom was positive for understanding English better. As for teachers’ perspectives, Dr. Shelmerdine would come up with different ways of asking about their experiences using break-out rooms.

In addition, as for what post-Covid research on virtual learning should look like, Dr. Shelmerdine insisted that “we need to look beyond the ‘this is an experimental stage, and therefore trial and error is acceptable’ principal and instead get a good job done in the end for our students/future leaders” by referencing Mukhopadhyay (2020). Only when researchers and educators raise awareness and take improving the approaches of virtual learning seriously shall students learn in better online environments.

Upon that, Dr. Shelmerdine concluded practices that worked for her, including demo interaction on Zoom and comparing interaction in the classroom to interaction on Zoom. In this way, she could reflect on methods of interaction and improve them. Dr. Shelmerdine also encouraged other teachers to develop their own ways of interacting in the most suitable ways.

For method and data collection, Dr. Shelmerdine mainly interviewed lecturers and explored what worked for them, and collected video examples provided by interviewees. Based on the resources, she conducted the thematic and content analysis. The thematic category, for instance, involves asking students about their preferred mode/or best mode of interaction for an activity.

During the Q&A session, Dr. Shelmerdine had fruitful discussions with Prof. Xin Zhang, Prof. John Noonan, Prof. Don Snow, etc. The topics range from cold calls in virtual classes to the future of online learning. In conclusion, Dr. Shelmerdine offered an enlightening talk about the effective interaction of virtual learning, inspiring the audience to think actively about its importance and possible ways of improving it.